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Brand Strategy Sports & Fitness Marketing

Dear sports brands, please stop speaking to me like I’m a man


By Livvy Moore, Partner

July 4, 2024 | 8 min read

Livvy Moore vents one of her biggest frustrations about how sports brands are marketing to women. It’s time for some self-improvement she argues, as part of The Drum’s Sports & Fitness Focus.

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I have lost count of the number of times I’ve sat in a room full of male sports marketers discussing how this is the year they’re going to ‘win with women.’ Ideas are batted around the table as if they’re trying to figure out how to make aliens finally wear sneakers while I spend the best part of an hour trying to contain my eyerolls.

Each time, all I could think was - why don’t you just ask a woman?

Despite popular opinion, we’re actually not that hard to market to - but the answers don’t lie in statistics. They come from an understanding of what it means to walk through the world as a female and can be summarized into four simple truths.

1. We’re not influenced by the same things as men

It’s no secret that historically, the entire sporting industry has been catered exclusively to men, which means our marketing approach has undeniably followed suit.

Male athletes have been lifted up as heroes in our society, and been utilized as pillars of influence in almost every iconic campaign and franchise you can think of. We put their faces on billboards, collectible cards and social media assets, knowing that just their affiliation alone will encourage male consumers to trust the brand and shop the product.

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But increasingly, as sports brands are moving into targeting women - they’re taking an identical approach and presuming it will work, swapping male faces with female ones - but it doesn’t.

While we have a huge admiration for women in sports, they’re not always who we look to for validation before buying from a brand. We need to buy into that female athlete’s story and see her as not just a sporting icon but a fashion one, too, if she’ll have any influence over the purchases we make.

Challenger brand, On realized this tenfold with its latest campaign with Zendaya. The unexpected partnership broke the internet and showed that athlete marketing isn’t the only way to create credible sports content with a female audience.

2. We don’t need a literal explanation, we need aesthetics

There is a tendency within sports marketing to overexplain that you’re a sports brand, especially when it comes to campaign art direction. We shoot on courts, inside stadiums, on running tracks, and in the gym repeatedly–but do we always need to be that literal?

Women don’t need sports brands to overexplain themselves to them–we need them to look good, and the backdrop and environment are the last thing we’re paying attention to.

We’re focused on the person in the image before anything else. We’re looking to see if we recognize ourselves in her and if we like the color and fit of her look. Subconsciously, we’re taking in the branding and photography style to see if it matches up with the rest of the aesthetic world we constantly live in online.

A great example of this is how Nike shoots yoga. They don’t need to show a studio - just the female form, some beautiful lighting and the right photographer was enough.


3. We don’t care why you love it, we care why we’ll love it

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we honestly don’t care about your product innovation and technology. Like not even a little bit. In fact, the only thing we care about is how we’ll feel wearing it.

Is it comfortable? Will I feel confident in it? Will it hide my sweat patches? Will I like myself when I look in the mirror?

Whether you’re trying to convey an emotional benefit or a product benefit - please, from all women everywhere, stop talking tech at us. It’s not that we don’t understand it, we do. We just aren’t into it.

A brilliant case study of this is the Adidas Ultraboost 22 campaign, which almost directly mocks the tech speak and tackles the issue head-on.

4. We don’t need everything to be hyper-feminine

Surely you knew this one was going to come up right? If not - surprise! We don’t need everything to be pink and floral. In fact, most of us would rather it wasn’t - and I’m not even talking about the products themselves.

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When it comes to female-first campaigns, many sports brands still push the male gaze in full force. From the styling to the storylines, the campaigns feature a version of women imagined by men, and it shows in the creative work.

A perfect example of where female first narrative was the top priority was Under Armour’s ‘I Will What I Want’ campaign. The ad focuses on ballerina Misty Copeland and shows the undeniable strength, both mentally and physically, the athlete possesses.

So, next time you’re crafting your next female-focused sports campaign put the statistics down and pick up this article instead. And if you’re still in doubt, look around and see how many women are in the room. Then double it.

And while you are here, read Livvy’s previous piece:

Brand Strategy Sports & Fitness Marketing

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